|Over-water Bungalow Anyone? Jim Augerinos researching honeymoon options at The Four Seasons Bora Bora.|
Jim Augerinos might just be the most laid-back luxury travel advisor around. He sports an earring and drives a black Jeep Wrangler. He even has Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers playing in the waiting room of his small one-man office in Vienna, Virginia. And yet Augerinos has chosen to deal with some of the most highly stressed travelers out there: honeymooners.
Augerinos, president of Perfect Honeymoons & Holidays Travel, doesn’t just plan honeymoons. He plans ridiculously over-the-top honeymoons. But if you think of it, that’s not unlike planning any luxury vacation. It requires the same level of dedication, passion and resources. The only curveball is that honeymoon clients are expecting this trip to be the best trip they have ever been on in their entire lives, and they’ll want to remember it fondly for the rest of eternity. No pressure. But Augerinos is apparently up for the challenge. His business is a small two-person operation; he’s raking in sales to the tune of $2.5 million per year. On his desk is a basket bursting with “Thank You” notes—a testament to the quality of trips he sells.
“Everyone here [in the Washington, DC area] is over educated, everyone makes good money, and everyone is very well-traveled,” he says of his clientele. These customers are also typically in their late 20s and early 30s, and are very much in tune with the trends of traveling Millennials. That means even though they’re planning their first vacation as a married couple, Augerinos’ clients want to be blown away even more so than your average luxury vacationer. Why? They’ve already cruised the Med and lounged in Jamaica. Now they want Thailand, the Maldives, Tanzania and New Zealand.
The Idea Guy
“No offense to men, but just a small percentage of them is very creative. A large percentage is not,” he says. “I’m the idea guy. I suggest romantic ideas such as private-island picnics and couples massages. At the end of the day I want my client to have a great experience and I want to make them look like rock stars.”
How so? Recently Augerinos planned a honeymoon for a couple at the Four Seasons Bora Bora, where they spent a full week. From there they flew to New Zealand to ski in Queenstown. He even arranged for a helicopter to bring them to the top of a glacier for a Champagne brunch. That’s what got them their rock star status.
Statistics show that honeymooners are typically between 27 and 35 years old, putting them directly in that savvy traveling Millennial mindset. This shift in the industry, which is felt throughout, is also prevalent in honeymoon travel. “Younger people nowadays are looking for unique experiences that are authentic, with less of a touristy feel,” says Augerinos. This is true across the board with respect to travel, and is also applied to honeymoons. “But if a client has never been somewhere, they have to hit the major sites. For example, in Paris, I give a mixture of traditional tourist sites like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, and then send my clients to the Marais or Montmartre, or other up-and-coming areas.” He affectionately calls his attention-stretched Millennial clients the “ADHD generation.” “They need to be constantly stimulated,” he says.
Perfect Honeymoons & Holidays Travel was launched in 1989 by Augerinos’ mother. “She had the foresight to see that having a niche in travel was necessary,” recalls Augerinos. “She enjoyed working with honeymooners because they are young and happy, and you get to plan this great vacation to help set their married lives off on the right foot.”
Besides, it’s a travel sector that forges on, even in challenging times. “It is a niche that is recession and war proof,” says Augerinos.
Augerinos came on to help his mother in his early 20s. Rather than attend college and spend four years in a classroom, he chose a route that would allow him to satisfy his intense passion for travel. Five years ago Augerinos, at just 33 years old, took the business on full time, running the day-to-day operations and dealing with clients. “There was a time when I thought I’d go and do something different. But most Americans get two weeks of vacation. Travel is a drug, and once it’s in you it’s hard to give that up,” he says.
Today Perfect Honeymoons & Holidays Travel is based in Northern Virginia, though Augerinos has opened up a west coast branch in San Diego, headed by Gretchen MacKnight. Between the two of them they have planned about 5,000 honeymoons. What are some of the trends he’s seen since the agency opened 25 years ago? Back then, people were content to lie on a beach for seven days. Twenty years later, the average length of a honeymoon has increased to 10-12 days and people want a combination of activities, divvied up between relaxing and exploring.
Being 38 years old puts Augerinos smack dab between the rising Millennials and the generation of travel agents who do business more traditionally. “I’m a bit old school and a bit new school,” he says. “I am not sold that Facebook is 100 percent the way of the future. I value customer service.” He tells us that his younger Millennial clients don’t know customer service because they are raised buying everything, from shoes to vacations, off their laptop. Older clients, before the Internet, always had human interaction. “I tell my younger clients that I am their trusted advisor. You can make anything look good online. But you need a human being involved to really set a vacation apart.” Especially a honeymoon.
Yes, Perfect Honeymoons does indeed have an online and Facebook presence. But before any planning can even begin, Augerinos invites clients to his office, where he meets with them for at least an hour, learning their preferences, studying their body language and figuring out in person the perfect prescription for travel. He is usually in the office until 9 p.m., and comes in on Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to meet with clients. He is also on call 24 hours a day. “My job isn’t finished until you are home from your trip,” he says. “My clients can always reach a familiar voice at the end of the phone line. I am their lifeline.”
He tells us about a client that realized his passport was going to expire a few days before his trip. Augerinos took him step-by-step through the process of expediting a passport renewal. He’ll hand deliver travel documents to a person’s home if need be, and sometimes puts out his own money in a pinch. “I had a client whose credit card was declined while on vacation, so they called me, and I paid it and they reimbursed me,” he says. “I even bailed someone out of jail a long time ago,” he laughs. “I haven’t drawn the line yet.”
A major part of his success involves his relationship with suppliers. “We have been doing this for so long that we have fantastic relationships,” he says. “I always send at least three to five emails to a hotel before clients arrive, with special requests and notes.” This is where his affiliation with Signature Travel Network comes into play. “We joined Signature two years ago and that gives us a certain cache when we call a hotel. It opens a lot of doors, and there’s a great value add that I can offer, from spa credits to room upgrades or free breakfasts.”
He also sells only what he has experienced himself, testing the services of DMC's to determine who is best and checking out all the restaurants in an area to provide insider knowledge. “One of my clients said there’s nothing worse than not knowing what to do when you land,” he says. “They are so busy planning the wedding that they don’t have time to put towards the honeymoon details, so they lean on me to provide that.” He likens himself to a human Trip Advisor or Yelp.
Augerinos says his grand plan is to find affiliates in other parts of the country to grow the Perfect Honeymoons brand. He has his San Diego branch and ideally he wants to be in Chicago, Dallas and the Pacific Northwest. New York is also on the wish list. The trick, though, is to not lose his identity. “I consider myself a boutique Mom-and-Pop,” he says. “Everyone tells me to expand, but I don’t want to water down the experience. People call us because of our reputation. I don’t want to expand for the sake of expanding.”
Without revealing all his trade secrets, Augerinos did tap into a key question: How does he get repeat clients, since, ideally, travelers take only one honeymoon? “I’m developing offshoots of Perfect Honeymoons that will deal with my repeat guests. My second largest form of bookings is babymoons.” He is also toying with the idea of creating an offshoot called Perfect Getaways to deal solely with leisure travel. “I do admit, we lose clients who only think we do honeymoons,” he says. However, that market is still his bread and butter and he continues to gain referrals based on his success.
We say, at the rate he’s going, one-time clients will keep him in the business for a long time.
Perfect Honeymoons & Holidays travel
Offices: Vienna, VA and San Diego, CA
Number of Advisors: 2
Annual Volume: $2.5 million
Affiliations: Signature Travel Network
Jim Augerinos’ Favorite Honeymoon Hotels
Qamea Resort and Spa, Fiji: Here, getting to your private island resort is part of the adventure (think helicopter, seaplane or boat). Qamea has always been one of my favorites for its mix of rustic elegance and barefoot luxury. You have the components of a world-class luxury resort but in a casual laid-back environment. No shoes at dinner time, no problem. The honeymoon bures here are totally private, just steps from the beach with their own private pools. The scuba and snorkeling are top notch here. When you’re done with sun and sand, hop over to Taveuni for a hike to a waterfall.
Palazzo Avino, Ravello Italy: The views from this hotel are simply stunning. Being in Ravello is like being in heaven. It’s more intimate and charming than bustling and touristy Positano up the coast. The staff is amazing and you feel like you are in someone’s upscale home. The hotel has a private beach club with a pool and restaurant so you can sun on the rocks after taking a dip in the ocean and dine on fresh seafood or wood-fired pizza. Their amazing bar has the craziest and most extensive martini menu I have ever seen. (I had a lobster martini last time I was there.) Follow that up with dinner at their Michelin-starred restaurant, drink wine from local vineyards and dine on fresh pasta and locally sourced ingredients. Top your stay off with a cooking class at world-famous Mama Agatha’s and you will feel like you have died and gone to heaven.
Jade Mountain, St. Lucia: Call this a view with a room; the plunge pool here is bigger than most NYC apartments. One honeymoon couple didn’t leave their sanctuary for four days. Sunsets are incredible, and at night you can lay in bed and see the moon and stars as you doze off to sleep. With an amazing black sand beach below at sister hotel, Anse Chastanet, and the rain forest nearby, Jade Mountain and St. Lucia are an active couple’s dream.
Four Seasons Hualalai, Big Island is my favorite hotel in the Hawaiian Islands. Killer golf course, world-class spa, sunset beach bar to pony up to each night and watch those phenomenal Hawaiian sunsets while drinking delicious island-inspired cocktails, rooms with private outdoor rock lava garden showers… sign me up, please! I love the upscale Hawaiian-themed decor and the layout of the rooms in two-story buildings, all situated throughout gorgeously manicured gardens and koi ponds. If you are lucky you will also get to see the resident sea turtles that like to sun on the beach. If you don’t want to snorkel in the ocean you have the King's Pond, replete with stingrays, coral, and fish galore. The water sports desk can assist with stand-up paddleboards, scuba, kayaks, the whole nine yards.
Katikies Hotel in Oia, Santorini, Greece, has to be in the top 10 most romantic spots on the planet. The sunsets here are incredible and the architecture is decidedly Greek. Where else can you stay in a boutique hotel carved into the side of a cliff with your own private pool to sip champagne in? This hotel is minimalism at its best but with an upscale Greek vibe. I always try to arrange a private candlelit dinner in the hotel’s wine cave. I love the fact you can dine on fresh seafood and drink the local wines. Oia is also the most charming village to stay in, far away from Fira with all the cruise shop crowds. You can walk out the front door of the hotel and you’re minutes away from the great shops, art galleries, and restaurants that Oia has to offer.